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BSA releases guidance note for reporting on terrorism

BSA releases guidance note for broadcast reporting on terrorism and violent extremism

BSA has today released a guidance note which it has prepared with a working group of broadcasters to guide broadcasters when reporting on terrorism, violent extremism and crisis events. The guidance note follows the issue of decisions by the BSA last year on broadcast coverage of the March 15 Mosque attacks.

When it released its decisions last year, the Authority acknowledged the critical role media play in reporting during crisis events, and also the traumatic impact that reporting on such events may have on the family and friends of victims. The Authority also acknowledged the significant potential for harm that can be caused to audiences when these matters are reported.

The broadcasting standards system provides an ethical framework within which broadcasters operate, which guides them to keep the public informed, without causing harm.

Following consultation with broadcasters, the Authority has not introduced any new standards for reporting on terrorism in the Codes of Broadcasting practice. The Authority and broadcasters found that the decisions issued last year demonstrated that existing broadcasting standards and guidelines provide appropriate safeguards for broadcast reporting on terrorism in New Zealand without harm.

However, with the assistance of the broadcaster working group, the BSA has prepared a guidance note for broadcasters that draws on the principles set out by the Authority in its decisions issued in 2019. The note highlights key considerations for broadcasters when reporting on terrorism. Considerations include broadcasters:

• Striking a balance between the duty to inform and the need to avoid being used as a vehicle for hateful, ultraviolent propaganda.

• Avoiding content that may promote, amplify and glorify the attacker/terrorist and their method, message and actions

• Being mindful of content that may incite or encourage violence, or promote serious anti-social and illegal behaviour, in the form of terrorist activity

• Exercising care and discretion in carefully balancing the obligation to report accurate and timely information to the public

The Guidance Note and short summary is available at: https://www.bsa.govt.nz/broadcasting-standards/resources/guidance-for-broadcasters/

Key decisions issued by the BSA in 2019 about coverage of the attacks on two mosques are summarised below:

Grant & Phillips and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-013

The Authority received two complaints about 1 News’ live coverage of the attacks. During this time, 1 News broadcast footage of victims being taken to hospital for medical care. Some of the victims were identifiable in the footage and others had visibly sustained gunshot injuries, including one victim with a serious head wound.

The issues raised by the complaints were:

• whether the footage of identifiable victims, as they were being taken into hospital, breached their privacy

• whether the broadcast of images of visible gunshot wounds were in breach of the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards.


The Authority found that this footage breached the privacy of the identifiable victims, as they were injured, in a vulnerable state (some only partially clad), and on their way to get medical care. However, on this occasion there was a high degree of legitimate public interest in the images. The scale of injury and medical attention provided to the victims was of legitimate public concern, and the degree of detail shown was essential to the narrative.

The Authority therefore found that the broadcaster’s use of these images was justified in the public interest and it did not uphold the privacy complaints.

Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests and Violence

The Authority recognised that some of the footage broadcast was graphic and may have been upsetting for some viewers. The images of victims suffering from gunshot wounds were likely to disturb or alarm children and the coverage as a whole concerned challenging violent themes. The key issue for the Authority was whether audiences were sufficiently informed about the nature of this content, so that they could regulate their own viewing behaviour or the viewing behaviour of any children in their care.

The Authority found that the level of public interest in this footage was high and it would have been clear to viewers, given the extensive signposting and signaling over the afternoon, that the coverage related to a violent shooting event which may feature disturbing content.

While this coverage was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times, parents and caregivers were provided with sufficient information, through the presenter’s narrative and on-screen banners, to decide whether the coverage was suitable for any children in their care. Audiences could expect that TVNZ would broadcast ongoing coverage of the attacks in lieu of regular programming and that some of this content might be disturbing.

Finally, the Authority found that TVNZ exercised the appropriate level of care and discretion, under extreme circumstances, in its portrayal of violent themes during this coverage.

Not Upheld: Privacy, Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Violence

NT and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-028

This complaint concerned an edited clip from the alleged attacker’s 17-minute livestream video, broadcast during 1 News. The clip was very brief, and showed a man’s hands holding a weapon and reaching for two weapons in the open boot of his car. White writing on the weapons was not legible and the man’s face could not be seen.

The Authority considered the public interest in both the broadcast as a whole and in the clip itself, finding that the content of this clip had high value and a high level of public interest. The clip highlighted for viewers the alleged attacker’s level of pre-meditation and preparedness, and also demonstrated his familiarity with the weapons shown in the clip. The Authority found that the use of images reinforced the seriousness of the attack and would have had a higher impact for audiences than a verbal description.

The Authority acknowledged that the implications of the clip were distressing and disturbing. The Authority also considered whether the broadcast of the clip had the potential to promote or glorify the alleged attacker and his message.

The Authority found, however, that the broadcaster took steps to ensure it complied with its duties under the standards. The clip was brief and did not show the alleged attacker’s face, did not highlight the messages written on the weapons and did not feature any explicit violent or graphic content. The weapons were not shown to be fired, raised against any individuals or used in any way other than shown in the hand of the alleged attacker. The clip did not glorify or promote the alleged attacker or his method or message.

The Authority therefore found that TVNZ provided only the information that was necessary to keep viewers informed about the attacks. Given the unprecedented nature of these attacks, it was important that audiences were provided with information about what had occurred, provided this did not cause undue harm.

The Authority determined that in the circumstances the harm alleged did not outweigh the high level of public interest and value in the broadcast, and therefore did not uphold the complaint.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence

UJ and SKY Network Television Ltd, Decision No. 2019-030

During its coverage of the attacks, Sky News Australia, broadcast on SKY NZ in New Zealand as Sky News New Zealand, broadcast a number of edited clips taken from the alleged attacker’s livestream video. These clips featured disturbing violent content, including the alleged attacker raising and firing his gun at individuals outside the Al Noor Mosque, images of the alleged attacker’s face, and audio (with subtitles added by Sky News New Zealand) of the alleged attacker providing commentary on the attack.

The Authority acknowledged the high value and public interest in the coverage as a whole, and that the coverage denounced the actions of the attacker, but found that, overall, the broadcast of these clips went too far.

While the clips selected by Sky News New Zealand were clearly edited, they contained footage of attempted killing, disturbing and alarming imagery and distressing descriptions of violence, which went beyond what was necessary to keep viewers informed about the attacks. The clips were repeated throughout the broadcast and the message and actions of the alleged attacker were more strongly conveyed through the inclusion of the alleged attacker’s audio from the livestream footage and also by the addition of subtitles.

The Authority noted that there were particular contextual factors in this case which increased the potential for harm. These included the source of the livestream video, which was filmed and distributed by the alleged attacker, the deliberate visual and sound cues intended to be recognised by those with extremist views, the first-person perspective of the clips and the addition of subtitles. Some of the clips also contained instructional elements, which had the potential to encourage susceptible viewers.

In making its decision, the Authority recognised the limited editorial control available to the New Zealand broadcaster, SKY NZ, noting it could not direct the presenters or edit content selected within the broadcast. However, the Authority found that more needed to be done to mitigate the potential for harm. SKY NZ needed to intervene earlier to ensure New Zealand audiences were protected from harm. This could have involved pulling the channel from the line-up earlier, broadcasting its own warnings available on the EPG for disturbing and violent content, or communicating directly with Sky News Australia sooner to note the potential for harm and/or to request more detailed warnings.

The Authority ordered SKY NZ to pay $4,000 in costs to the Crown.

Upheld: Violence, Law and Order; Declined to Determine: Balance, Accuracy, Fairness; Order: Section 16(4) - $4,000 in costs to the Crown


The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.

The Authority members are Judge Bill Hastings (Chair), Paula Rose QSO and Susie Staley MNZM. The Chief Executive is Belinda Moffat.

For more information see our website: www.bsa.govt.nz


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